So, the Final Leg of my Great American Roadtrip: San Francisco and the Pacific Coast Highway.
When I told Katy I was coming to San Fransico, she said if you don’t mind touristy things, we should go to Alcatraz. I said, no, I don’t mind touristy things as long as they don’t suck. The fact that Katy is from the Bay Area and actually wanted to go back to Alcatraz testified to its non-suckage.
It was actually quite interesting. Alcatraz has been turned into a museum, and there’s an interesting little tape tour you can get that’ll sort of show you around. The people that narrate it are all former cons or guards, which is interesting.
They also have programs led by the Park Service Rangers out there, and we stuck around for the one about escapes, which actually focused more on movies than anything else, but his talk was still really interesting.
After we took the ferry back to the city, we walked through the Fisherman’s Wharf Designated Tourist Area (demarcated by dozens of shops selling cheap fleeces to the dumbasses who didn’t look at a weather forecast and realize that San Francisco is chilly during the summer), and got chocolate shakes from Ghirardeilli Chocolate Factory.
Such a total chocolate overload, but soooo good.
I like the San Francisco Bay Area a lot, mostly because it’s really, really beautiful. I’m just going to refer to it as San Francisco for simplcity. I’ve been advised if I call it “Frisco,” I will be repeatedly smacked upside the head by any native who hears it.
I stayed at Katy’s mom’s place in Berkeley (which I always end up leaving at least one e out of the first time I try to spell it), which was cool. The neighborhood is still “in transition,” as Katy’s mom puts it, but the place was really, really nice. It’s right by the famous Gilman Steet punk club, which Katy has made beloved to even us non-punks from her stories of going to shows there all through high school.
I went out to the Castro a couple of nights with Katy and I-Chieh, her best friend from high school, and that was fun, although again, the whole post-Labor day thing bit us in the ass (and not in a good way) as there was almost nobody out on Tuesday night. The other thing about San Francisco is that for its huge reputation as a gay mecca, there’s not a lot of girl bars.
And by not a lot, I mean two.
Anyway. Katy took me up to Telegraph road up in Berkeley, where I spent way, way more money than I should have at Amoeba Records (and discovered, much to my wallet’s dismay, that there’s one in LA), had a fat slice of Fat Slice pizza, and generally went hippie-watching.
One thing I didn’t mention earlier was that you see a hell of a lot more people hitchhiking out west than you do back east, and most of them are hippies. The rest tend to look like serial killers, but I digress. I guess hitching is still in out here, and not considered as much a sign of mental illness as it is east of the Rockies.
One day, while Katy had a job interview, I went into town and met my friend Cameron, who lives near the Haight, another center of hippiedom. Parallel parking in that area gets damn interesting, especially with a car that doesn’t hold hills too well, or back up on them without a significant jolt.
The hippies, I noticed, were not on Haight street anymore. The corner of Haight and Asbury is appropriately stocked with a Ben and Jerry’s, but the vast majority of the hippies were in Golden Gate Park. Most of the people on Haight street were either tourists or locals.
Cameron gave me a tour of the park, which was cool. It’s a beautiful park, if you care to ignore the people trying to sell you drugs. Although I suppose if you like drugs, that’d probably make the park even better.
We ended up doing a bit of driving, since it was the only day I was in San Francisco that it wasn’t covered with a massive cloud of fog. We went to the base of the Golden Gate bridge, which I hadn’t even been able to see before.
Then she drove me up something called Twin Peaks, which I only associated with the TV show, but which turns out to be a huge hill that lets you see the entire damn city from one point of view. You could see all the way to Mount…uh, mount something. I’ll post the name when I think of it or someone informs me of it.
Anyway, I also got to see the house Katy grew up in (and where her dad lives now) in Fremont, which was really cool. For some reason I’m always really interested to see people’s houses from when they were kids. I feel like it fills in a part of someone that no matter how well you know them, is always a little bit more.
Overall, San Francisco was mostly just chill, eating good food and generally hanging around with Katy. Definitely a good time, and I’ll probably go back up there to annoy her sometime this year, because I like it up there.
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful roads in the world. As a trade-off, it is also one of the most absurdly dangerous.
Hairpin turns that you have to take at 10 miles an hour to avoid flying off a 100-foot cliff into the ocean, blind passing lanes, and all sorts of staggeringly gorgeous views that you have to try and pull far enough off the road to see without being hit by a car, but not so far as to go over the edge.
The beauty of the Pacific is something only professional writers should describe, but I’m going to try: As you look out in front of you, the only thing you can see until the horizon is the greatest shade blue you’ll ever see. The sun makes the water sparkle like someone’s accidentally run a boat of glitter aground, and all you want to do is stare at it all day.
In the few places where the highway runs close enough to the beach to actually access the water, the temptation to wade, even if you’re wearing jeans, is irresistable. I took off my shoes and rolled up my jeans into some fairly stupid-looking shorts, but I didn’t care how I looked. You step into that water and the world just melts away.
The death-defying turns do begin to get tiresome after a while, so you’re glad when the turns actually start to level out a bit. I stopped in San Simeon (you’ll see why in a minute), at a motel so sketchy it didn’t even have phones in the rooms. I didn’t bother to ask my usual question about whether I could check my email.
I saw my first Pacific Ocean sunset in a very long time there, frantically taking pictures from a black sand beach I had previously spent two hours reading and staring at the ocean on, burning the hell out of my corneas as I watched the sun slowly slide beneath the water.
I think it’s the first time I’ve watched the sun sink like that since I went to Hawaii when I was seven, but I could be forgetting something. No doubt, however, that it’s been a long time.
San Simeon, it turns out, is where Hearst Castle is. This is a massive home on a hilltop built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, and its spectacular decadence was years ahead of its time.
Hearst donated the Castle (or “the Ranch” as he liked to call it, in a textbook example of understatement) to the State of California when he died, so the state now makes a pretty penny off dragging tourists up the 1000-foot hill to the castle and showing them some of the more absurd displays of ’20s wealth in the world.
Julia Morgan, who was the architecht, civil engineer, interior and exterior designer, and otherwise master planner of the place, did a hell of a job building it. Hearst, like most very, very wealthy men, was prone to swift changes of mind about decor and structure, and you can see a few pieces of evidence of them (last-minute turrets on a guest house, for one example), but not many.
Hearst’s motto appears to have been, “If it’s old and imported from Europe, let’s use it!” 400 year old Italian choir stalls. A ceiling torn out of a 1700’s Spanish house. Every ceiling in the place has some huge story along with it. One gets the idea that if he could have, he would have relocated the roof of the Sistine Chapel to his billiards room.
There’s also an IMAX movie about Hearst, which is basically half haigiography and half beautiful footage of the surrounding areas. The haigiography part is all re-enacted, which is always kind of stupid but is at least on the better side in this film. I kind of wish they had just cut the damn nature footage together and left the haigiography out, because it was just gorgeous.
I stopped in Santa Barbara instead of going straight to L.A., partly because I was tired from spending half the day at Hearst Castle and partly because I didn’t want my roadtrip to end.
The beaches there are great, and I ended up renting a sea kayak and going somewhere between a half-mile and a mile out to sea. When you have a quiet little boat like that, you can row up to the buoys that mark the beaches without disturbing the sleeping sea lions that take them over, and can get right up close to the critters before they start to give you a bad look for waking them up.
When you get out that far, you can see a lot better than from land how Santa Barbara is slammed straight up against a rather large, very green mountain range. There’s a litle bit of foothill and then a whole lot of mountain, and while a few people have built their homes straight into the mountain, most are towards the bottom. It’s quite beautiful to behold. The beaches there are really nice, too.
There are two weird things, though: The first is a very large offshore oil-drilling operation that’s visible from shore most days, which spoils some of the beauty of looking out to sea, although most of the 8 jillion gubenetorial candidates here have pledged to rid California of this eyesore.
The second appears to be a large line of mountains that are sticking straight out of the sea. Now, I’ve never seen these on a map, so it’s entirely possible that I’ve hallucinated them. They may be some really really huge barrier islands, but I couldn’t tell.
And for some reason, the people I talked to showcased a remarkably uniform lack of knowledge or care about their surroundings. I guess if you’re busy surfing all the time, you don’t really care as long as it doesn’t affect the waves, man.
And that’s pretty much the end of the Roadtrip. I drove into LA the next morning through Malibu, which was pretty, but too populated to be genuinely gorgeous.
I went to eight states, (North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and California), put almost five thousand miles on my car, crossed the 60,000 mile plateau on same (15,000 of which have been since December), spent way too much money and had a great fucking time.
Special shout-out to Katy for hosting me in San Francisco and to everyone who has guided me to great places to see throughout this long, strange trip.
The best of my pictures will be posted once I get an apartment, get it set up and and get my computer back online.